By Dustin T. Hull
I consume numerous podcasts weekly. I love fan-casts and participate in them frequently. However, I love hearing podcasts involving opinions and thoughts of those inside the industry. It lends more of an idea towards the truth rather than speculation we can all conjure in our minds. I enjoyed listening to Dixie Carter on both of Steve Austin’s podcasts as well as Billy Corgan on Talk is Jericho. I also listened to a recent conference call with Corgan. In said call, writers had the opportunity to question Billy on a wide range of topics. I want to focus on one topic that he touched on several times: Impact having a development system.
If we look at the history of TNA, we can make correlations in how they seemed to have a system at various points in their lineage. Be it Ohio Valley Wrestling or the working relationship with ROH in the early days, TNA had a place that they could grab talent from. Since TNA and OVW have severed ties, there is a hole at this point that Billy thinks needs to be filled. And from my standpoint, I can agree with him. Let’s look at a few options they could attempt.
[Before I do, I want to preface this by saying that I have no experience working inside the wrestling industry – I am just a fan. I apologize up front for anything written that might be inaccurate or improbable inside this piece. This is simply one opinion on this topic.]
Pay Per Appearance
In the early days of TNA, the show had a feeling that you could see talent from virtually anywhere; ROH, New Japan, and AAA talent were regularly seen on Impact. I know only what was reported on the relationships between TNA and these companies, but from what has been reported in the past, TNA has used a Pay Per Appearance structure off and on for quite some time. A few positives of this format are that bringing in someone like Sonjay Dutt for a match or two seems ideal when needed.
This structure appeared to work well when TNA was doing 6 men X-Division matches back in the Asylum days. More talent variety without any long-term money commitment to said talent, plus giving creative a chance to see if they can use these guys in a specific story, this seems like a good dynamic for something like the X-Division, but I am unsure if this would work for the Main Event scene. One of the major setbacks is that talent can often disappear too quickly for some viewers.
At Destination X 2011, Austin Aries faced Zema Ion, Low-Ki, and Jack Evans for a TNA contract. In a match that had the crowd chanting "Sign them all," we saw Aries win the contract – and rightfully so. Zema stayed around, which I also feel was a smart choice. However, some felt that TNA missed the boat by not signing Jack Evans. Arguably one of the craziest in-ring performers to watch, Evans has done quite well for himself in AAA, but the notion that somehow TNA "blew it" isn’t something you want to give exposure to.
Tyler Black, Jon Moxley, and CM Punk are all names TNA used at one point or another. The idea of fans seeing TNA "letting these guys go" – even if it was for a reason as simple and justified as not having anything for them at the time – creates verbal backlash from wrestling fans; a fight that TNA is involved in regardless of what decisions they make. There’s also the consideration of talent using Impact to raise their stock with no intention or desire of growing the brand. Fans complained about this when "WWE guys" did it, so I am including this as a negative for Indy talent.
Adopt an Existing Promotion
TNA has used working relationships with promotions as a way to bring in talent – most recently with Wrestle-1 and Sanada. There are times in which I feel TNA gives a bit more than they receive, but when structured like how they were with OVW, I feel it works. Jesse Godderz and Sam Shaw did well going to OVW and working with an immensely talented wrestling figure in Danny Davis.
While Shaw is hit-or-miss with some fans, I feel he grew during his time there and the experience helped when he was given the Samuel character to run with. Arguably the biggest proof that it did wonders was the transformation of Godderz. He seemed to really gain confidence in himself during his time in OVW and he made great strides with the BroMans once he was brought up to Impact television. TNA even managed to get some interesting segments out of the relationship, such as when Joseph Park was training with Danny Davis.
With the OVW ties seemingly gone, there are a few interesting choices out there. We can all build pipe dreams, but I want to look at realistic options. For this reason, I will exclude Pro Wrestling Guerrilla as an option because of their close, albeit murky ties to ROH.
House of Hardcore
This one is tricky considering HOH acquired a deal with Fight Network in over 30 countries. I'm not sure of Dreamer’s intentions nor am I certain if he would welcome the idea of his promotion being seen as a "developmental system" for TNA, but the opportunity for cross promotion is intriguing. The reason I don’t see this as a pipe dream is TNA talent regularly appearing for the promotion since its inception. With Dreamer as an agent/producer for TNA, I think this might have legs if the proper talent exchanges are made. Ultimately, it’s up to the visions of Dreamer and Dixie to coincide, but to create that competition and grow both brands is definitely an option in this dream sequence.
This company run by Gabe Sapolsky might fly under the radar, but they have hosted some of the biggest names in Independent wrestling, in many dream match scenarios. They have an interesting history considering that they are married with Dragon Gate USA, but run independent shows – only in the Indies, right? Sapolsky, known for his ROH fame and for being the protégé of Paul Heyman, has quite a specific vision for all of the shows he produces. With guys like Drew Galloway, Austin Aries, Davey Richards, and Manik having worked for the promotion, there is a door that might be interesting to see opened. When considering names like Adam Cole, Cesaro, Dean Ambrose, Kalisto, Kota Ibushi, Michael Elgin, Ricochet, Sami Zayn, Solomon Crowe, and Uhaa Nation have all been through the promotion at one time or another, the idea of this company as a place to find the more polished talent is amplified. From the stance of getting to see some of the best potential, this is one of the most ideal options outside of the West Coast sensation known as PWG.
Sure, it’s a promotion that went silent for over a decade when Matt and Jeff signed with the WWE. Yes, they have held less than 20 shows in that entire 14 year history. However, with the Hardy name attached to the promotion, this is an ideal scenario if TNA doesn’t want to create a developmental territory from the ground floor. Why? Because it’s wide open. While OMEGA doesn’t have the name associations that Evolve, PWG, or even HOH have at this point, they do have a large amount of room to grow and develop. The fact that this is the Hardys' promotion helps to bolster the potential as Matt Hardy has been busy on the independent scene since 2012. He seemingly has the connections (this is purely my assumption) to bring in a lot of the talent needed and with am active relationship in TNA, he could easily be that liaison to get the right names to those guys in TNA who make the decisions as to which talent gets dark matches or utilized in opportunities for the ONO tapings.
Start from Scratch
TNA has the option to build their own form of a developmental territory. A lot would need to go into this process more than simply picking a name and signing talent. They would need to find a home base to plant their flag; Florida would seem logical as they can hold tapings for both Impact and the new territory at the same time (this is assuming they would even want to tape the development system to begin with). However, Florida is very populated at this point so I’d suggest they choose Texas – because I live here – but a more realistic option would be returning to the roots of where TNA started at the Asylum in Nashville. There’s also the question of to who would run it (I’d suggest Al Snow and Pat Kenney), who’s writing for them (perhaps since Corgan is so enthusiastic he might take up this task), and many other factors.
It seems as if building from the ground up is a long road, but it does offer a clean slate. They can have one set idea in place – build the future crop of TNA talent. Using this platform as a way to define Impact television characters that are ready to be injected into storylines seems possible, as the creative team will always be aware of what is going on in the promotion. Another beautiful perk in my mind is that Impact will own any and all footage of this promotion. There is no hassle when it comes to using this to build stars as they debut on Impact. This is a perk they wouldn’t necessarily have – again, my assumption - when adopting a pre-existing promotion, nor with the Pay Per Appearance concept.
Ultimately, there are hundreds of options TNA could use in this capacity. From the idea of a developmental territory based in Europe, to the idea of hosting shows from said promotion on their website and YouTube channel. Billy Corgan brought up an idea in his interviews which has me pondering all the different routes they could take, the potential peaks, and the associated valleys. I am going to throw my own personal bias in here, but IF Impact chooses to follow up on this idea, I would like to see Mike Tenay involved in the territory in some capacity. Tenay has such a wealth of knowledge; the idea of him scouting talent and seeing how they react in specific environments or settings seems natural. He has been with the company for so long, I feel that he might have a good idea as to who would help elevate the company he has put so much work into, as well as develop a system that can flourish.
These are solely thoughts from a fellow wrestling fan, but I must thank Billy Corgan for getting my creative juices flowing on this subject.